Embedded C++ : to use exceptions or not?


The most problem with exceptions -- they don't have predictable time of execution. Thus they are not suitable for hard real-time applications (and I guess most embedded application doesn't fall in this category).

The second is (possible) increasing of binary's size.

I would propose you reading of Technical Report on C++ Performance which specifically addresses topics that you are interested in: using C++ in embedded (including hard real-time systems) and how exception-handling usually implemented and which overhead it has.


I realize this may be subjective, so will ask a concrete question, but first, background:

I have always been an embedded software engineer, but usually at Layer 3 or 2 of the OSI stack. I am not really a hardware guy. I have generally always done telecoms products, usually hand/cell-phones, which generally means something like an ARM 7 processor.

Now I find myself in a more generic embedded world, in a small start-up, where I might move to "not so powerful" processors (there's the subjective bit) - I cannot predict which.

I have read quite a bit about debate about exception handling in C++ in embedded systems and there is no clear cut answer. There are some small worries about portability and a few about run-time, but it mostly seems to come down to code size (or am i reading the wrong debates?).

Now I have to make the decision whether to use or forego exception handling - for the whole company, for ever (it's going into some very core s/w).

That may sound like "how long is a piece of string", but someone might reply "if your piece of string is an 8051, then don't. If, OTOH, it is ...".

Which way do I jump? Super-safe & lose a good feature, or exceptional code and maybe run into problems later?

The other posts have addressed the important issues of dynamic memory allocation, exceptions and possible code bloat. I just want to add: Don't forget about <algorithm>! Regardless of whether you use STL vectors or plain C arrays and pointers, you can still use sort(), binary_search(), random_shuffle(), the functions for building and managing heaps, etc. These routines will almost certainly be faster and less buggy than versions you build yourself.

Example: unless you think about it carefully, a shuffle algorithm you build yourself is likely to produce skewed distributions; random_shuffle() won't.

Embedded C++ : to use STL or not?

Super-safe & lose much of what constitutes C++ (imo, it's more than just the language definition) and maybe run into problems later or have to add lots of exception handling & maybe some other code now?

We have a similar debate in the game world and people come down on both sides. Regarding the quoted part, why would you be concerned about losing "much of what constitutes C++"? If it's not pragmatic, don't use it. It shouldn't matter if it's "C++" or not.

Run some tests. Can you get around STL's memory management in ways that satisfy you? If so, was it worth the effort? A lot of problems STL and boost are designed to solve just plain don't come up if you design to avoid haphazard dynamic memory allocation... does STL solve a specific problem you face?

Lots of people have tackled STL in tight environments and been happy with it. Lots of people just avoid it. Some people propose entirely new standards. I don't think there's one right answer.

As I read your question, I was thinking about traditional embedded programming until I saw the Linux part. C++ can be used in embedded programming with caveats around hidden constructors, etc. If you're running Linux, I suspect that you don't need to worry about that stuff.